The AER of Berlin

We met the creative minds behind the avant-garde brand and talked about youth culture, personal memories and the future of niche scents.

AER scents revolutionized niche perfumes and took it to a new level by combining traditional craftsmanship with personal emotions and the customer, seen as an individual. The atelier, located in Berlins all over known St. Oberholz, is a small, beautifully decorated space with a corner window facing the Rosenthaler Platz. A modern version of an alchemists tower room, where all the secret magic happens. Ted and Stefan are two creatives with a vision: making perfumes which last in a fast consumerism world. 

The impossible mission: vegan, botanical and cruelty free? 

Ted Young-Ing: Of course not, but it takes passion. Let me start by telling you the story of our ingredients. We source them from all over the world, and we spend a lot of time finding the best supplier from each ingredient. For Accord No.06, we use ylang ylang, a beautiful, exotic flower. Our comes from the Comoros Islands, just off the coast of Mozambique. It is handpicked early in the morning – before dawn – because that’s when its scent is strongest. Then the oils have to be extracted from the flowers (again by hand) within an hour or two of picking. It’s an incredibly labour-intensive process. And then they’re shipped to us as oils. Almost every other perfume brand uses synthetics, which are chemically derived from petroleum. We don’t. All our ingredients are botanical… they come from plants. They all have amazing stories like this.

Ted Young-Ing & Stefan Kehl, AER Scents Berlin

Stefan Kehl: The ingredients are actually so expensive, that it hurts. But that’s part of the decision, we’ve made to change something in the long line of perfuming. After the first scent, we had a couple of ideas and tested it with the target group. We got a lot of positive feedback, so we continued. And now we’re here. 

Who’s the target group?

TYI: We create something beautiful, unique and avant-garde, but at the same time we want our scents to be responsibly sourced and environmentally friendly. It’s important for us that our customer is happy about the results and also the way it’s produced. We wanted to create scents that we love and thought people would want to share this idea of traditional perfuming with a twist. People who are intelligent and who know what it means to create something like this.

How would you describe this person, wearing an AER accords?

SK: I personally could imagine a person who is responsible for himself and the environment. But this usually meant you’re automatically seen as a „hippie weirdo“. That is not the case any longer. Customers want to have access to great fashionable products, they ask for stylish and cool things which look good on the shelf and which are free from a certain image. We’re not talking about the organic store anymore.

TY: The natural option shouldn’t be a compromise. I should add that we think it’s important that our perfumes are genderless. We don’t have an age group or strictly defined market. We make our perfume for people who love our perfume. 

Why Berlin and not Paris as chosen place for your vision?

SK: We love Berlin. The city is up to date in many ways. Especially beyond the borders many people are hooked, when it comes to our city. Even in New York City. Berlin used to be a leading city in the twenties: Fashion, inventions, art, make-up and of course the perfumery scene. And now it is again.

TY: We both live here. And we love this city. Berlin has its own way of doing things. Here, you either break traditions or you work with them, and force them into something new. The funny part is that we make perfume how it’s been done for thousands of years. We’re taking these classic ideas and making them our own, the Berlin way.

SK: We mix up the classics in a rebellious way, which is also typically for Berlin.

Personal Favourite: Accord N° 2 CADE with a mix of smokey sandal wood and a hint of fresh neroli

Some of your scents are actually „classics“. But the outcome seems completely different to others. Whats the secret?

TYI: Yes, you can say that. Our Accord No.06 is a classic fougère with a totally modern, crazy, new perspective.

SK: Which no one could think is natural. Classic perfume is structured as a base, heart and top note. I had to follow my idea of changing the architecture of it. Our aim was to create something which is really crisp and dry. So we used white pepper, which we wanted to work with since the beginning. I knew it would be the main character of our fragrances. Sometimes you get this feeling, touching something and think: all right this is it. And then we put all these dry and green ingredients on the table and started to rebuilt this classic. Usually a fougère has this barber shop smell, but in the end it became a really addictive, intriguing, happy making scent.

Where does the inspiration of mixing music, scents and sculptural staging come from?

TYI: We feel we’re a part of Berlins culture, here in this totally modern city, where the lines of craft and creativity are blurred in a very exciting way. We worked with Kevin McHugh aka Ambivalent, who is often involved in the creative process and is a big fan of AER. He created the sounds for the perfumes to give them another dimension. It is the idea of layering music and a smell to create an experience.

SK: Everyone knows, that a smell has an immediate reaction to us, a memory or an emotion and it’s the same with music. I like that. With most other perfumes don’t have this impact anymore, they basically don’t create reactions anymore. In our case we have often the opposite reaction. Customers almost have explosions of reactions, when they try our perfumes. I think with this point we’re changing the world a little bit more.

TYI: Our ingredients, you know these smells. The smells bring back memories. Or simply connotations of memories, because you relate the smell to a moment in your own history. We don’t want to brand the person who wears our perfume. We don’t create stories for the perfumes, we focus on the ingredients and we try to leave space for the wearer to create their own story. We want them to think about the scent, the music and the sculptures.

creative chaos…

Do you challenge the clients with you products?

SK: We always make a riddle out of it. Usually the clients have a strong lifeline. Stressed, hectic or disturbed by their phones. We let them smell the fragrances and let them guess what it could be, which always leads to memories. We want them to deal with their emotions, I think that’s an important part of the vision and tearing down boundaries. Also we don’t brand them with a sexual image, as big brands do it. There’s no man coming out of the water or this woman better than the other one.

Is the creative struggle real?

SK: It is actually helpful, even if it’s painful. Sometimes, Ted hates things I love and vice versa. But then we’ll open the discussion and see where we could compromise. Mostly the results are amazing after the struggle.

TYI: We put a lot of emotions into our products, but it’s always worth it. Even if we scream and fight about steps in the process, there’s a lot of love and care, (sometimes) drama and even tears in the scents. We basically put our souls into our products, they represent us in every way. Good for us, that you can’t smell the tears. (laughs)

What’s the bigger picture for AER in the future?

TYI: Our main goal is to grow with integrity. We don’t want to become a giant brand, sold in drug stores all over the world. Growing slowly and making sure that everything is done our way, so that we can be proud of our brand.

SK: I like that we’re not creating stories around the products, we leave the imagination to the individual. Many big companies are dropping, cause they don’t get what the client wants or needs. They’re manipulating their customers and hope they won’t suspect it.

Ted you were mentioning that you’ve „misspent” your youth in various clubs. What needs has youth culture today?

TYI: (laughs) Well, I never really said it that way. I loved my youth! But I think the younger generation today is demanding a better world. That’s something we didn’t do really well in the 90 and earlier 2000s. We were selfish, self-obsessed and didn’t realise where the world was heading. You have to look beyond your noise to imagine the future.

Stefan mixing.

SK: (laughs) My view is that I grew up in the 90s and I literally lived in techno clubs. Originally from the Black Forest region, I did my own outfits by using the sheets of my mom, buying fabrics close to the Swiss border or in Camden Market in London. I even went to school with my techno looks, which was outstanding amongst the others form the small villages. I personally fought for a better world, while I was dancing. We did something creative by ourselves and made our clothes, while big brands make it accessible and cheap for the kids nowadays. Personally I think it’s easier to find your character, but they need to find ways to take care for the environment.

If you could change one single thing to make the world a better place, what would it be?

TYI: We live in this world, were everyone is trying to compartmentalize. We live on one planet, we’re all in the same boat. I think it would be, that we’re all need to work together more closely as one community, to face our future. The more we put up borders or walls, the less successful, or happy; the less creative and joyful the world will be.

SK: I’m following you Ted, but I always feel this world-weariness to it. Having two tremendous world wars in mind obviously brings change and opens up borders and societies to each other. But was that really necessary to bring neighbours closer together?

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